Climate change reporting needs hope as well as fear
You've seen the pictures. You've read the headlines You've listened to the dire news reports. We all have. Climate change is real. It's here now and it's terrify. But there's something else we all need to understand to predictions of the apocalypse drive clicks and they drive shares and they make money. But that doesn't mean. The world is about to end next year. or the year after that or even over the next decade no matter how quickly the climate changes. Humans are adaptable. We are inventors for smart and were capable of advanced problem solving. And so yes, the climate is changing rapidly and in horrible ways but we are also right now creating new technologies. Inventing new ways of living. And rethinking our current behaviors to adjust to new reality to survive. You don't often hear enough about those things certainly, not as often as you share about how utterly screwed but we are. And why does that matter? Because hope matters. Because a goal to work towards is always better than despair. Because if we're all going to really fight back against climate change, we need to see examples of battles that we can win. We need to know that we are not powerless. So. How can? Without. Ignoring the real danger a planet faces. Tell those stories. I'm Jordan Heath Rawlings and this is the big story. Cheryl Kirshenbaum is the executive director of science debate an organization that works to get candidates on record on science policy. She also co Directs Michigan State University's Food Literacy and engagement poll and hosts an NPR podcast called serving up science. Hey Cheryl. Hi, thanks so much for having me. Oh you're welcome. Maybe as we get started here, just to sort of set up a baseline because we're going to go in a different direction on climate change today, you're a scientist you work on this stuff. How much trouble is the world in due to climate change just just to lay the baseline for everywhere else we're about to go. Yes. Climate change is serious. We're in a lot of trouble. It's not a new issue at something that scientists and others have been grappling with for decades, but we haven't been taking the precautions that could be to lead to. A better outcome. So unfortunately, we're emitting a lot of greenhouse gases and that's changing our oceans. It's changing our environment. It's changing our whole world and that's going to have ripple effects and it won't impact all of us equally right and now let's get at what you wrote about, which is, how do you see that future that we're talking about depicted when climate change is covered by by the media or elsewhere I find it very frustrating to be honest because when we hear climate change, usually there's often a photo depicting a skeleton of an animal on a desert or. The the storms and hurricanes ripping out trees, and unfortunately for good reason, there have been wildfires in the news and on one hand, it's it's heartbreaking but also it's a way that we have been more focused on climate but I feel like we're so we're paying so much attention to the real negatives and what ifs and what's coming or potentially coming but we're not spending the time to talk about solutions and the people that are working now to try to avoid these horrible future scenarios that are still if not avoidable, we can change them to be less dramatic and less severe particularly in the developing world where people are more vulnerable to food shortages and. Water shortages and energy shortages and everything that goes with that. Why do you think it's covered the way that it is now with those pictures you mentioned I think that there's a lot of reasons I think that on one hand I called it in the piece that you had had seen I call it Doomsday Porn I. Think in some ways we live in this environment where everything has to be click -able and the more dire the more pressing the more likely it is that someone is going to follow a link to get to a story and advertisers are involved. So I don't think that's the whole reason but I do think that that's part of it. I also think we kind of can't help ourselves but worry about the future in so many ways and climate is part of that. My concern is working in this space, and as I said, I've been working space for about twenty years a lot of people reach out to me on a weekly basis especially young people that are anxious depressed deciding not to have kids making these big life choices and feeling. So stressed without having a background in the science and really sing away of this crisis and while I, don't think climate change is something will magically solved. There's a lot of. Pieces to it I. Wish We'd Focus on the folks looking at a more resilient future, looking at complex systems and talking about the different levers that we can use to make things a bit better because those are still very very possible when you use the term resilient future what does that mean? We can be acting now to make sure that we prioritize food security, for example, and many people are so I work in agriculture at Michigan State University, and I work with some amazing people that are looking at what makes our crops more resilient to drought and two storms and to flooding. And if we can get more attention to a lot of these issues, we can garner more funding for the people thinking about these challenges and the solutions that go with them. Then we'll be able to adapt in ways that are still possible but when I. Click on a link or open my laptop or see what's on twitter. It's a lot of panic and hopelessness. And it's not these stories about these people to to me who are real heroes of climate change I think we might start to see a little more of that I know Dr Michael Man is about to come out with his next book that is focused on hope over panic, but it's a really hard conversation to shift, and while it used to be the kind of thing that politicians wouldn't even say wouldn't even talk about you mentioned. My my nonprofit that I co-founded science debate we work to get candidates running for office to address science and Technology Policy and when we got going in two, thousand, seven, two, thousand and eight you weren't even hearing the term climate change. So we've come a really long way since then we're now it's an issue that comes up all the time in stump speeches maybe a little bit more in the US from one party than the other. But. We're still not at a place where I think that talking point has translated into actionable items but we're seeing a lot more interest in what some of those policies might look like that I think is based on science. But again, we're often really struggling with having the will in the political realm to make that happen. We'll be back after one brief message. I'm going to tell you a little bit about Canada land, which is a podcast that knows what happens here matters. Every week candidate land tells a story. You won't hear anywhere else and shows you how this country really works. From breaking news on the charity scandal to land occupied by indigenous protesters, Canada antics takes you to the heart of what's happening here. Host Jesse Brown an contributors have conversations with journalists and artists and experts who reveal what's really going on in Canadian Politics Arts Activism and media. It's always candid. It's sometimes uncomfortable but they're interviews tell you what people in power don't want you to hear whether that's deeply reported expose or just showing you how the sausage gets made. There is a new candidate land every Monday and I always checked to see what they're up to and we've even had host Jesse Brown on this program before. You can subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or visit Canada Land Show Dot Com. I know one of the things that I personally struggle within that I think we we also struggle with on the show sometimes when we cover climate change is to focus on the numbers and by that I mean the targets that aren't being met, and also specifically the kind of one point five degree target that I think a lot of people have heard a ton about and. What we've heard about lately is that there's no way we could even hope to cap it at that and I guess I. Wonder. You know what gets lost when the the future of the world and it actually looks like to live in it is kind of reduced to to a number on the thermometer that's a great question. We've been presented as either or in many cases, right you you hit that target and the world is ending. It's the apocalypse or we save ourselves by somehow magically staying under some kind of threshold and I've heard a lot of different thresholds and that's not really fair way to present climate change. In my opinion, we are going to continue to see changes because these happen over a very long time. It's not like something we do immediately can change the foreseeable future insignificant meaningful way that suddenly climate change isn't a problem. But we lose focus on the things that can matter most. So for example, a lot of people come and talk to me and they think we need some ground new innovation that we can invent ourselves out of this crisis, and we just we just need to get there it's new technology and they don't realize that one of the most impactful ways that we can work to affect the outcome or to change the trajectory we're on a regarding climate change is simply by wasting less food. We throw away between a third and a half of the food we produce, and that's a lot of water a lot of energy a lot of wasted deforestation, a lot of land to produce something that we just toss and then in turn produce a whole bunch of emissions through that process. So there's something we don't need any kind of new innovation or technology to move toward, but we're not hearing about it because maybe it's not as exciting right food ways to wants to talk about that. But but there's an example of something we can do right now. To omit far less. And have a lot of other benefits around the world as well. But it's kind of how do you get people to do that? You know without scaring them without without giving them that the world is going to end type feeling because. Otherwise. Like you said, know food waste is not a sexy thing to talk about but maybe it is when you're threatened with the end of the world. Hopeful messages motivate people to act a lot more than doomsday scenarios. There's a lot. There's a new field that's come recently where people are looking at the psychology of climate change and it seems that very much show when feel that they can take action to do something about it. They're more likely to to stay positive to want to be involved in solutions I also think there's this thing that feeds on itself especially in the policy realm. Where if we are presented over and over with this doomsday scenario, we see politicians who used to call climate, change a hoax then turn and go one, hundred, eighty degrees and say, well, it's real but it's nothing we can do about it. We're already doomed. There is a lot of middle ground and I think at sometimes has to do with who the Messenger is in the past I've done a lot of work in energy water conservation and climate specifically. And I give a lot of talks that usually I'm talking to people that already understand the problem. Now that I work in agriculture, I'm meeting a lot of different kinds of people that maybe aren't as comfortable with the term climate change but they are noticing that conditions are changing in farming and that we're probably going to have to take some new strategies on to get the yields. The crop yields that we've been dependent upon and will continue to be even more. So going forward. So there's different frames in different ways to talk about what we face. I also feel like the alarmism isn't helping I don't know exactly how to tone that down because again it's it's almost like a virtue signal a I don't know if that's the right term I'm not sure if that's I mean, but it's so aligned to certain political. Ideologies that it's become more difficult to tease out the science and the evidence based policy solutions that we can move toward from aligning with a particular stance on who should be in office, and that's that's really a missed opportunity because it doesn't matter what party you're part of climate change will impact you So I love to see us move the conversation a little bit away from partisanship if possible now that's been going on since before I worked in Congress beginning in two thousand six and that was a challenge. Then it's gotten a lot worse obviously. So I don't have an easy solution definitely, not something I could pull out in disgust for another fifteen minutes and. We'd be done. But I think that that we can move and in many ways are moving maybe not so visibly. Towards some action that will make a difference and I would just love to see that's why I love that you wanted to have this conversation today. I think we can move in that direction and also tell a few more people about what's going on along the way we'll. I totally get that it's almost impossible to disentangle climate change from partisanship at the actual levels of people in power but. Is there a way that we can try to work on that in our ordinary lives because you're absolutely right that whatever the term has virtue signaling or something else If it's associated with one party. Anybody who identifies as the other party is going to take an opposite stance and and how do you open a conversation on climate changer on potential solutions without framing it as a like this is what we should do because we're liberals or conservatives. It's another great question. People are a lot more willing to take someone seriously if there's already trust embedded into the relationship. And the person with that message is willing to not just talk but also spend a lot of time listening. For in my own life, I have a lot of friends who are conservative and liberal and among the Conservatives they might not immediately be ready to talk about climate change but one friend, for example, recently took a cruise to Alaska before the pandemic back and said you know. I'm really troubled I. Didn't see what I thought. I was going to see the icebergs don't look like they used to look and it started a conversation between us, and now he comes to me when he has questions about climate change. So I think starting from a place with people in your own community who you already have a relationship with it might not seem like the biggest platform because it's not A. National audience but all of us have these networks with different kinds of folks that we so infrequently listened to and it becomes an echo chamber of people who who think like us and talk like us that are in our circle. I think bringing more people into those conversations that we know maybe in our family maybe in our neighborhood I is really probably the most important piece that we're missing right now. What do you say to? The cynicism whether it comes from someone who doesn't WanNa? Do Anything about it because Oh it's already too late kind of the politicians you mentioned earlier or even just from some regular person and I've had my moments of this where it's just it's it's tiring and it's hopeless and it is easier to sort of be resigned to the end of the world than to actually think that we can change this. It definitely can feel overwhelming I agree with you there, but I like to tell stories of hope especially stories about things that I work on that maybe aren't as flashy and getting all the media coverage. Can you tell us a couple? Of course. I'm really interested in agriculture agriculture contributes tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. But the sector really matters and it's not one that gets a lot of news coverage and that's because it takes so much energy and water, and all of our resources to plant to harvest to clear land to refrigerate store transport to go through all the steps along the way to get to our plate, and again, I already talked about food waste, but we're starting to change the way we eat now I can't speak for Canada I'm sure Canadians eat a lot of meat to but in the US we eat an average of two hundred fourteen pounds of meat per year per person which has an enormous footprint. But now, there's a lot of people through this Collaboration through startups and science and entrepreneurship. To change the way we eat make us a bit less dependent on very carbon intensive farming practices like beef. So just the explosion of plant based Meat Alternatives, the rise of what will soon be commercially available. Of Cell Cultured Meat are going to offer new options for communities that maybe aren't vegetarian or weren't looking for those kinds of alternatives specifically because they normally would look for the the Vegan option but these these products are being engineered and designed to substitute meet, and that's very scary to meet lobbyists and I've seen a lot of pushback, but it is starting to take a little bit of the market away from traditional meat traditional beef in particular. I see that as a huge change that's happened extremely fast and I find that very encouraging I find the fact that climate change. has become such an important voting issue in the two thousand twenty US election a huge difference from where we were even ten years ago in candidates didn't really WanNa talk about it or say those terms, the marches we see March is all around the world constantly especially by young people who were taking this very seriously maybe a little more hopeless than I prefer but. But we've woken up to the fact that something's different and then even the conversations I have with my colleagues in the farming community. As I said, they might not be willing to talk about climate change, but they are starting to deeply concerned when crops fail in a year because we get devastating tornadoes going across the center of the country and I, think the wildfire situation, the hurricane situation especially in twenty twenty speaks for. itself so I don't I don't like I mean it's horrible that these things are happening with increased severity. But I do think there's a collective recognition that something's different and we better do something about it. So the title of your piece in scientific American was no climate change will not end the world in twelve years like all the all the doomsday porn that we do see I guess my last question for you is. If climate change is not going to end the world in twelve years. What will the world look like with Climate Change in twelve years? What do you see instead of those pictures of a skeleton in a desert? I'll preface this answer by saying I do not choose headline as you probably know. So I wasn't super thrilled with that headline. Why not can you tell me why not I, in it speaks to the purpose of the piece, but there's a lot of people who see headlines and don't read the articles themselves. So there were a number of people that assumed I was a climate denier and we're sending me these horrible emails not having read anything further down than that headlines. So I think but I understood why that I mean that headline was probably part of the exact same thing that we've been talking about it's flashy. It sounds like something that you should click over to. The headline was fine in terms of what will our world look like in twelve thirteen fifteen years. I truly believe that that will be up to us and it's still up to us. So we can choose to promote the kinds of research and turn the kinds of technologies that are going to give more food secure future wall making the distribution of food. More just and equitable I mean we're in the situation where some of us have too much to eat and we have a lot of health problems because of that, and a heck of a lot of people aren't getting enough food which is absurd. But the issue right now isn't that we don't have enough food globally it's that we don't distribute it well. That will change as more people are here, but we can find ways to be more equitable to to create a better outcome. We have to be smart with water. Water is our most critical resource in light of climate change, and there are a lot of folks looking into where we can. Where we can use water resources. In a more efficient way efficiency is a huge part of the solution. I'm we're seeing the emergence. There's there's an energy transition that's happening right now and I think a lot of people aren't even aware of that because we're not focused on it but the way we use energy is changing very quickly. Now in the US again, I know I keep being us centric but that's where I am so I I know our data We're pretty closely tied to you. So no worries that's that's my understanding. We're very dependent upon each other in many ways as well. We are not investing in resource in development, which is a lot of the science stuff. To the extent that other countries are so does that mean that other countries like China become leaders in this space that we have the ability to? Really. Meet, our meaner our challenges and I mean I mean solar is wanting sample. China's really invested in solar in the US kind of step back for a lot of reasons. Are Too detailed to go into right now, but we can choose to be a leader we can choose to innovate. We can choose to meet this challenge in a way that is more humane that considers. The biodiversity of life on planet earth not just humans because I think a lot of us forget that humans are one part of a much more complex system. That's becoming increasingly fragile species going extinct. There's there's so many pieces to this, but we're seeing more interest in attention to where our food keep going back to food but I work in more interested in where food comes from a more interest in in how we can. Make our way on this planet. While considering the biodiversity of life. That's both just and equitable. To humans and other species and I see that as a real reason for optimism in addressing climate challenges Cheryl thank you for this dose of optimism. I think on this topic especially, we needed it. Well, thank you so much for inviting me on and I hope to talk to you again sometime. Cheryl Kirshenbaum of science debate. And of serving up science which you can get wherever you get podcasts. Just. Like you can get the big story wherever you get your podcasts and also at the big story PODCAST DOT CA. And, of course, find us on twitter at the the big. Story. F. P. N.. Email us but not with climate denial at big story podcast. All one word all case at RCI DOT ROGERS DOT COM. Thanks for listening I'm Jordan. Heath. Rawlings. We'll talk tomorrow.